James: A Faith That Works – Part 2
“How to Say No and Feel Good About It,” that was the title of an article in a business journal recently. It counseled administrators to learn to say no for the good of the company, even when their heart wanted to say yes for the good of the employee.
I want us to talk today about how to say no to temptation and then feel good about it. Because there are times in the Christian life when our heart desires things that are not in the best interest of our family, our church, or ourselves. And if we can learn to say no, even though it’s difficult at the moment, then ultimately that discipline will have positive results.
Earlier this week I was watching a montage of videos on YouTube of popular TV commercials from the 1980s. One of the commercials that jumped out at me was of former Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda who was a spokesperson for the Ultra Slim Fast diet for a time. In this particular commercial, he made the statement: “Now I’m a strong man, but unfortunately Linguini is stronger!” And it made me think, when we become Christians we want to be strong, but there are times when temptation just seems stronger.
So if we’re going to behave as Christians ought to behave, it’s imperative then that we learn to resist temptation. And would you pay careful attention as we consider this passage from James this morning, because all of us need some practical instruction about how to cope with temptation. And just maybe something that is said today will save you from ignorant and injurious behavior in the future. Maybe something that is said today will keep your family together, a young person out of prison, or even save somebody for eternity.
Let’s look again at the counsel that is given in James the 1st chapter, beginning with verse 13. This passage gives us some insight about how temptation works in our lives and why it’s so potentially dangerous. But more importantly it suggests how we can learn to say no and then feel good about it later.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF TEMPTATION. (v. 13)
I want you to see first the certainty of temptation.
James says in verse 13, “When you are tempted…” It doesn’t say if you are tempted, it’s just inevitable that you will be. Last Sunday we talked about the certainty of trials, because in verse 2 of chapter 1 James said, “…when you face trials.” And now he’s saying, “When you are tempted…” Both, then, are inevitable!
Now I think it’s real important that we distinguish between trials, tests, and temptations.
Trials are difficult events that occur naturally in life because we’re living in a sinful world. There are viruses, such as COVID-19, in the air. There are bumps in the road. There are hurricanes in the weather. And we’re going to experience those trials simply because we live in an imperfect world.
A test is a difficulty that is deliberately sent by God to reveal the depth of our character and to ultimately bring out the best in us. God’s purpose in a test is that we mature and pass the test and are thus victorious.
But a temptation is sent by Satan to bring out your worst. It’s a deliberate enticement to sin. Satan’s purpose is that you disobey God and become weak. His desires is to entrap you in sin so that you’ll suffer defeat, and ultimately death spiritually.
I think the Old Testament character Naaman is a prime example of all three of those difficulties. From the passage in 2 Kings chapter 5 we know that Naaman was an official in the Syrian army, but he contracted leprosy. That was a trial, he just was exposed to the disease. But he went to Elisha the prophet and requested healing from God. And Elisha said, “If you’ll go dip seven times in the Jordan River you’ll be made well.” Now that was a test. It was somewhat unpleasant and humiliating, because the Jordan was a muddy river, but it was an examination of Naaman’s faith and a testimony to others of God’s power at work in his life.
Naaman was then tempted to refuse. Satan enticed him with pride, saying, “Naaman you’re way to sophisticated for that! Don’t make a fool of yourself.” And the Bible tells us that Naaman turned and rode away in a huff. But then he later changed his mind and went back and dipped seven times in the Jordan River, and he was made clean. You see, he rejected the temptation, he passed the test, and he overcame the trial.
But James says that just as we’re all going to have trials, in the Christian life we’re also going to have temptations. Some Christians erroneously assume that once they get really spiritual they’ll be exempt form temptation, that they’ll no longer have any desire to do evil. In fact, there’s a first line of a hymn that we used to sing that says, “The world all about me now has no allure” (“I’ll Put Jesus First in My Life”). And the assumption is that if we really put Jesus first in our life that we’re going to then be above any kind of inclination toward evil. But you know, if that were the case then there would never be any real temptation, would there?!
In Luke the 4th chapter we read that following Jesus’ baptism He was led out into the wilderness where for 40 days He was tempted by the devil. Hebrews 2 says that Jesus was “…made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest… Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (vv. 17-18).
Now what that tells me is that every Christian is going to struggle with temptation all throughout life. We will never reach the level of spiritual maturity where we can say, “I’m now beyond the reach of temptation, it just doesn’t attract me anymore.” If Jesus was tempted from the beginning of His ministry all the way to the end, then you can pretty much count on the fact that we will be also!
A young man once asked a priest, “Father, when will I reach the point that the sins of the flesh will no longer appeal to me?” And the priest said, “Son, I wouldn’t trust myself until I’d been dead for at least three days!”
Now at various stages of your Christian life you will experience an intense desire for sin. And that’s not necessarily an indication that you’re out of sink with God. Actually, it may be just the opposite. It may be an indication that Satan feels the need to halt your progress. Those temptations may come in various ways and at various stages in your life. In youth you might be more tempted to sensuality. In middle age it might be materialism. In old age it might be pride. And those temptations you struggle with may not attract other Christians, and vice-versa. He just works on us in different ways.
For instance, I’m not much tempted to gossip. I just don’t find joy in saying something really nasty about another person for the most part. But I am tempted at times to lose my temper and say things I shouldn’t say. So I have to discipline myself all the time to try and keep things in check. And it’s hard.
I’m not much tempted by greed. You can take me for a ride in your BMW and I’ll rejoice with you. Then I’ll get in the car that I drive every day, which has almost 200,000 miles on it, and I can be pretty content. I’m not jealous of that. Now that’s not spirituality, my wife will tell you that I love new cars, but that’s just the way I’m wired. But I am tempted, if you haven’t noticed yet, to overeat just a little. I see a nice plate of sweets and I just can’t keep my hands off them. I know I should, but it’s so hard not to indulge.
I’m not at all tempted to drink alcohol and get drunk. The idea of drinking just doesn’t appeal to me. And I shouldn’t receive any credit for staying sober, it’s just not appealing to me. But I am tempted to gamble. When I play golf and somebody says, “hey, let’s play for 50 cents a hole,” that really sounds exciting to me, I think that would be interesting. I think it would make the game more fun. And for me that wouldn’t be gambling anyway, the way I play it would simply be a charitable contribution!
Now the fact that I have a temptation for anger, or to overeating, or gambling, may come as a shock to some of you. But does that make me any less spiritual? No, it doesn’t make me any less spiritual, it’s just simply recognizing the reality of temptation in my life. It’s identifying the anticipated areas of attack from the adversary, which is a healthy thing.
Paul says to us in 2 Corinthians 2, verse 11, “Do not let Satan outwit you. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
Just as you need to know the areas of your spiritual gifts and focus on them, so you need to be aware of your most vulnerable areas and protect yourself against them. You see, righteousness is not being exempt from temptation, righteousness is facing temptation as a daily reality and overcoming it!
II. THE SOURCE OF TEMPTATION. (v. 13)
Now look again at verse 13, which identifies the source of temptation.
James says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’”
God is not the author of evil, Satan is. Now God may bring tests into your life to examine you. He may allow trials to come to strengthen you. But when you find sin appealing to you, don’t blame that on God. God does not traffic in the realm of the immoral.
I heard of another overweight preacher who made the announcement to his entire staff that he was going on a strict diet. But the very next morning he showed up at the church with a dozen donuts, and two of them had already been eaten! And his secretary said, “Hey, I thought you said you were going on a diet.”
He said, “I was, but I found out it just wasn’t God’s will.”
She said, “Well how do you know that?”
And he said, “Well, you know, I always drive by the bakery on my way to the office. And I was hungry this morning, so I just prayed: ‘Lord, if it’s not your will for me to eat any donuts then don’t let there be a parking place in front of the bakery.’” And he said, “But sure enough, the 8th time around the block there was an open place right in front of the door!”
You see, we’re always trying to blame somebody else, even God sometimes, for our sins. God asked Adam, “Why did you eat of the tree that I told you not to eat of?” And Adam said, “Well, the woman you created and gave to me, she gave it to me and I ate it. It’s your own fault, God. After all, you created her!”
You know how it goes. “It’s God’s fault that I’m having this affair, because I met this woman and the chemistry between us was just so right. I mean, the electricity was there and we just couldn’t resist it. That’s just the way God made us.”
Or, “It’s God’s fault that I’m so lazy. After all, I’m a phlegmatic temperament.”
Or, “It’s God’s fault that I’m a complainer and a ‘Debbie Downer.’ After all, that’s just the way I’m inclined. That’s the way He made me.”
But you see, God didn’t buy that line of reasoning from Adam, and He’s not much impressed with it today! James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…” (v. 13). He’s not directly, indirectly, or even remotely associated with our sins.
Verse 14 tells us the real problem. James says, “…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”
J. Wallace Hamilton wrote a book about human nature some time ago. The book is entitled Horns and Halos in Human Nature. You see, there are two natures that beat within the heart of every one of us. We are created in the image of God, and there’s a part of us that really leans toward that which is good, and we’re attracted by that which is right. But we’re also bearing in our hearts the image of Adam. We inherit from the first man the inclination to do evil.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked” (NLT). Paul said, “I know that within my flesh there dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18). And Satan knows that there is that inclination toward evil in every one of us and he is a specialist at stimulating our craving for the flesh. He knows how to arouse desire within us.
The literal meaning of the word “entice” in the Greek carries with it the meaning of “baiting a hook.” You see, an experienced fisherman knows just how to bait the hook in order to get the fish that he wants. And Satan is a master fisherman. He’s been fishing for souls for centuries and he knows how to entice us.
But once you become a Christian it’s your responsibility to learn to say no to the flesh. The Bible says in Romans 13 that we’re not even to think about the deeds of the flesh. Paul says in Romans 13, verse 14, “…do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Craig Massey wrote:
Two natures beat within my breast,
The one I love, the one I hate,
But the one I feed will dominate!
And the real reason we’re inclined to evil is that we have an evil nature within us.
III. THE SEQUENCE OF TEMPTATION. (vv. 14-15)
Now look at verses 14 & 15 where we see the sequence of temptation.
This is the only passage in the entire Bible that I know of where the process of allurement is established. You see, temptation follows a clear and consistent pattern.
First, we are dragged away. The spiritual is negated. We’re dragged away from that which is good. We are removed from that which is spiritual. Satan knows that to succeed he has to remove us from a positive influence, and so he drags us away from the church, the Bible, our families, and from positive thoughts. Simon Peter was very courageous as long as he stood with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He drew his sword and was ready to fight to the death. But a few minutes later when he was dragged away around the enemy’s fire, and he was all alone, Peter wilted under the pressure. So we are dragged away.
And then we are enticed. Desire is stimulated. And again this word for entice means “persuasion,” “baiting of the hook,” “seduction.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his work Temptation, vividly portrays what occurs. He writes:
In our members there is a slumbering inclination toward desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, or love of fame and power, or greed for money. At this moment God is quite unreal to us. He loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. (Temptation, pg. 116.)
So we are dragged away, we are enticed…
And then the sin is committed. James says, “…after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin…” (v. 15). You see, the desire is conceived and mulled over in the mind and then it takes the form of action, behavior that we know is contrary to God’s will.
Max Lucado writes:
Satan aims his dart at your weakest point and . . . Bull’s-eye! You lose your temper. You lust. You fall. You take a drag. You buy a drink. You kiss the woman. You follow the crowd. You rationalize. You say yes. You sign your name. You forget who you are. You walk into her room. You look in the window. You break your promise. You buy the magazine. You lie. You covet. You stomp your feet and demand your way. And you deny your Master. (On the Anvil, pg. 98.)
So the spiritual is removed, the desire is stimulated, the sin is committed.
And then a habit is formed. Do you see that little phrase, “…sin, when it is full grown…”? (v. 15). Sin is not benign, it is malignant! It’s a cancerous tumor that, left untouched, grows and eventually consumes you.
At first when you sin there is pleasure, followed by emptiness, and then guilt. But then there’s a strange craving for a repeat performance. The deed you thought you would never want to do again; you begin to fantasize about. And since you’ve already done it once before, it then becomes easier the second time. And there is an increasing sense of guilt. There’s also a law of increased appetite and diminishing return that takes over. Sin has to be increased in order to produce the same amount of pleasure.
One marijuana cigarette brought a thrill, it was just an experiment. And like some people, maybe you didn’t even inhale! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) But the next time it’s got to be more. And soon it becomes a monthly party, then a weekly practice, and for some a twice-a-day habit.
Stealing one small item from the store produces a rush of excitement. Then repeated, and the amount and the risk are increased until shoplifting is a habit.
A man lies to swing an important business deal, and then he lies to cover up. And soon he’s so ingrained in lying that he doesn’t know when he’s telling the truth anymore.
A student cheats just to pass a critical test. And then cheating is easier the second time. And maybe she’s so ingrained in cheating that she can’t quit now, or she would fail.
Romans 6:16 says, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey…?”
And that’s the final step in the progression of sin, the soul is destroyed.
What is it James says? “…sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (v. 15).
In a movie that came out a number of years ago now a man has a whirlwind affair and then tries to terminate the relationship. But his mistress becomes possessive and threatens to destroy his job and his family, and the man can’t get away from her. And the movie has an interesting title. Does anyone know what movie I’m talking about? That’s right, it’s entitled: “Fatal Attraction.”
Folks, all sin is potentially a “fatal attraction.” “…sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (v. 15).
Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Now when you sow a bushel of wheat you expect the harvest to be multiplied. And here is a principle I’d like for you to particularly note on your outline and to always remember about when you sow sin: The pain of the harvest always exceeds the pleasure of the sowing!
This passage in James says that God wants to give us “good gifts.” But Satan doesn’t want to give you any gift! He let’s you experience the pleasure now, but you pay later. And the pain of the harvest always exceeds the pleasure of the sowing.
Someone said: “You sow a thought; you reap a deed. You sow a deed; you reap a habit. You sow a habit; you reap a character. You sow a character, and you reap a destiny!”
IV. SOME SECRETS ABOUT OVERCOMING TEMPTATION.
Now beginning with verse 16, I think James gives us some secrets about overcoming temptation.
When I was preparing this sermon I was really tempted to give you four or five things that you could do to help you overcome temptation. Things like saturate yourself with the words of the Bible, be sure to pray, remain close to Christian friends, and all those sorts of things. But when passion and desire are aroused in your life, you’re not liable to go back and go over some arbitrary formula I’ve given you.
So when you’re faced with temptation would you just remember this two word phrase: BE SMART! When you’re faced with temptation, be intelligent. Sin is so stupid.
James says in verse 16, “Don’t be deceived….” Don’t be led down the wrong path. Stop and think about how dumb it is to let Satan suck you in. Don’t allow your desires to dictate your behavior. Think smart!
When sin is fully exposed in people lives, do you know what the first reaction usually is? They usually don’t say, “Boy, I’ve done a terrible thing. I’ve sinned.” No, they usually say, “I just don’t understand how I could have been so stupid!”
Ted Haggard was so stupid to have a homosexual affair and throw away his career. Pete Rose was so stupid to gamble on his own team and cheat on his income tax. Richard Nixon was dumb to be involved in Watergate when he already had a landslide victory in his grip. Ivan Bosky was stupid to practice illegal trading and wind up in jail. He already had millions. Jimmy Baker was stupid to pay himself millions of dollars and avoid paying income tax. Eve, Samson, David, Judas, Ananias and Saphira, were all so stupid in their behavior.
Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. …But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:24, 26).
Now I suspect that some of you here today may be flirting with sin in your life right now. And it’s so stupid for you to jeopardize your influence, your family, your career, your health, and maybe even eternity all for a moment of pleasure. Maybe you think you’re really clever right now because you’re getting by with it. You think you’re smart enough that you’ll know when to stop. You’re enjoying the money. You’re flushed with passion. You’re excited about the challenge. Gordon McDonald calls it “tiptoeing on the cobwebs.” You think you can tiptoe without getting entangled, but the Bible says, “…be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
I recently heard the story of a real estate developer living in Kentucky. This man was a member of a Christian Church there, and it seems as though he was going through a very difficult time financially. He’d put together, though, a great deal. But he’d been so weakened financially that he needed an investment partner in a hurry.
One afternoon his agent contacted him and said, “I’ve got you in contact now with a doctor in our city who wants to talk about that investment.” The doctor was a man of means, and he was impressed by the project the man was proposing. So he said to the developer, “I’ll write you a check tomorrow for $300,000. I want in!”
And the developer thought to himself, “There’s just something not right about this situation.” And he said to the doctor, “Just where is your medical practice?”
And the doctor said, “Well, I think you probably ought to know up front that my practice just happens to be at the largest abortion clinic in the state of Kentucky.”
Well the developer, a Christian, was now in a dilemma. He so needed the money, he’d prayed for a solution, and here at the last minute was a man who had the resources. But did he really want to go into a partnership with a man who got his money from killing the unborn? So he said, “I’ll talk with you about it again tomorrow.”
So that night he and his wife talked it over. And there was so much pressure to go ahead with the deal, it was such a strong temptation. But the next day he told the doctor no. And he said, “Though I was relieved, there was still an empty feeling. I just didn’t know how I was going to get out of my financial mess.” But within a week there was another backer who surfaced and provided the necessary resources, and the project did extremely well. The developer said no, and today he says he feels so good about it. That’s resisting temptation.
We read of Moses that, “…when he had grown up, [he] refused to be know as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Moses was smart. He said no to immediate pleasure and yes to ultimate joy.
Folks, it’s smart to maintain communication with the Giver of good gifts! James says in verse 17, “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” And then he says, “[God] does not change like shifting shadows” (v. 17). It’s smart to be in partnership with somebody who is so dependable.
Verse 18: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth…” It’s smart to be loyal to the One who gives you life. “…that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (v. 18). God needs you to be a demonstration of what He can do in the lives of others, and it’s smart not to let him down.
You can say no to temptation if you really want to. “[God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth…” (v. 18). And you can choose to believe Satan and live a lie and be deceived, or you can choose to believe God and receive His life. But the choice is yours!
Somebody rightly said, and I quote it in your outline in closing, that, “Every day is election day. God votes for you. Satan votes against you. But you cast the deciding vote!”
First Church of Christ
July 5, 2020